Tag Archives: Phoenix Suns

Two Step Forward, One Steps Back

Yesterday, in one fell swoop (trade), one team inched that much closer to title contention, a second added a key piece to their new youth movement, while the third…continued to baffle, if not infuriate.

The trade in question is of course the three-way exchange between the Los Angeles Clippers, Phoenix Suns and Milwaukee Bucks, in which the Clippers receive J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley, the Suns receive Eric Bledsoe and Caron Butler, and the Bucks get two second round picks.

For the Clippers, this was a no-brainer. Willie Green was serviceable as the Clippers’ starting shooting guard last season. His PER was a less than respectful 11.8, but he shot nearly 43% from beyond the arc and scored 13.6 points per 36 minutes. Redick, however, is much more of a weapon than Green could hope to be. Not merely a standstill shooter, Redick is very adept at getting open looks via screens. Per MySynergySports, with both the Milwaukee Bucks and Orlando Magic last season, 30% of Redick’s offense came from off-screen situations. With Orlando, approximately half of Redick’s shot attempts coming off screens were three pointers (93 of his 187 total attempts), while with Milwaukee, that number dipped slightly (48 of 102 total attempts). Interestingly enough, Redick’s offense suffered the more he was forced into a spot-up role. Spot-up plays accounted for 18% of his offense in Orlando, scoring 1.27 points per play and shooting 47.1% from the field. As his percent of spot-up plays rose in Milwaukee, to the tune of 24%, both his points per play – 1.02 – and his field goal percentage – 39.8% – dropped. Further, to classify Redick as just a shooter is disservice to his all-around game. He’s a valuable defender from both an individual and system standpoint, and while he may not have the handles of Jamal Crawford, he is more than capable of running the pick and roll or being the initiator on offense.

Speaking of Crawford, it will be interesting to see how Doc Rivers manages the minutes of both Redick and the master of the four-point play. Green may have been the starter by name, but he only played 16.5 minutes per game, while Crawford played 29. With Redick (and Rivers) now in tow, however, one would expect this discrepancy to disappear. It’s possible we’ll see a three guard line-up of Paul, Redick and Crawford, which could be lethal

The Clippers also gained another valuable asset in Jared Dudley. Three-and-D wing players are very much en vogue, and Dudley is one of the too-often forgotten founding members of this club. The addition of Bledsoe to the Suns signifies several items. First, new General Manager Ryan McDonough showed his commitment to an actual rebuilding process, not one in name alone. Bledose was an extremely hot commodity during the regular season, due to his havoc-wreaking nature on both sides of the floor. Bledsoe averaged 14.9 points, 5.4 assists, 5.2 rebounds and 2.5 steals per 36 minutes, with a PER of 17.5. It wasn’t all roses, however, as Bledsoe also turned the ball over 3 times per 36 minutes, and saw his production taper off severely as the season wore on. Despite these flaws, Bledsoe’s production was apparently enough to convince McDonough that he was ready to be at the helm of his own team. This is a genuinely exciting acquisition. It’s not overpaying or giving up too much for a washed-up veteran or a player that will never live up to his potential no matter how many chances he gets. It’s still a risk, as Bledsoe is unproven in his ability to run a team full-time, but it’s a calculated one, and needed if the Suns are ever going to rise from the dregs of the NBA.

Second, goodbye Goran Dragic: point guard, hello Goran Dragic: shooting guard. The Suns didn’t bring in Bledsoe to back up Dragic, but the 27 year-old Serbian is too good, and too highly paid, to go back to the bench. There isn’t a tremendous amount of data to help gauge how successful Dragic will be in this role. According to 82games.com, the only time Dragic has played more than 10% of his minutes at the two was with Phoenix in 2009-10 (17%) and Houston in 2011-12 (13%). He saw some success in Phoenix, posting a PER of 18 and an effective field goal percentage of 57.2%. Those numbers weren’t as great in Houston, as his PER was 12.9 and his eFG% was .492. Then again, we can likely explain at least a portion of this discrepancy with the Steve Nash effect. Defensively, in Phoenix, Dragic held opposing shooting guards to an eFG of 49.4%, while in Houston, that number rose to 51.5%. Again, the small sample size caveat is an important one here, and we can’t yet make a definitive statement as to Dragic’s ability to play the two full time. The Suns can also use Dragic as trade bait to dangle in front of a fringe-contender in need of a quality point guard.

As for the Bucks…well…maybe we should rename them the “Milwaukee Meh.” Essentially, the Bucks turned a half season of JJ Redick, acquired to help them make a run in the playoffs which ultimately amounted to nothing, into two second round picks. It’s hard to see what, if any, strategy under which Milwaukee is operating. While second round picks are becoming increasingly more valuable, they are a paltry compensation in a trade that saw the other two teams acquire essential pieces. As Zach Lowe points out, it puts the Bucks in solid tanking position, but will Milwaukee actually succeed in this endeavor? Tanking is hard in the Eastern Conference, with so many awful teams in the bottom that one or two inevitably falls into the 7th and 8th seeds. Given how excited the Bucks were to make the playoffs last season, they may even forsake the tank in favor of another ill-fated run.

Two teams got exactly what they needed in this trade: the Clippers received two elite shooters, while the Suns received a young, promising point guard to lead them out of the desert (metaphorically speaking, since they’ll still be in Phoenix) and into the promised land. The Bucks? The Bucks aren’t even Charlie Brown on halloween, getting a rock while everyone else got candy–Charlie never expected the rock. The Bucks knew exactly what they were getting with this trade, but it’s unclear if they’ve planned a next step.

 

My Finals Memory: The Round Mound of Rebound

clappstar | Flickr

Most of the memories of basketball I have from my childhood merge in my brain like some super-montage. “Roundball Rock” is inevitably playing in the background, I’m seeing a lot of orange, white, and blue fly across the court, and on occasion, there’s a black and red blur streaking across my mindscape… always with a tongue sticking out. No actual personal physical exertion is present in this montage, though. Most of my basketball memories were from watching others on a flickering screen. Except for that puffy-paint Mark Price jersey my cousin made me from an old t-shirt. That’s in there, too.

TV and video games were how I was plugged into the NBA for the most part. I always knew who played in the Finals every year because there was a video game series called “[East team] vs. [West team]: NBA Finals” that EA sports used to put out. I’d played “Celtics vs. Lakers” and “Bulls vs. Lakers,” but for some reason, my favorite was always “Bulls vs. Blazers.” I’m not really sure why. Lots of red and black symmetry, perhaps.

The year that game came out was the year that the Bulls made the Finals again–this time, against a super-team Phoenix Suns. Sir Charles, KJ, and Thunder Dan (along with a pretty stacked roster) were finally something we all thought could dethrone the MJ-era Bulls. We all know they came up short, but that series–20 years ago now, holy shit–was my first Finals series that I remember watching. I don’t think I stayed up late for every game (I was only 8, after all), but it was the summer, and I did get to see at least part of most of the games. And for the first time after watching the tongue-protruding red and black run amok on my Cavaliers did I have another protagonist to grab my attention: a portly, bald man with a thin mustache and a foul mouth by the name of Charles Barkley.

I don’t remember all the details of the series so well, but I do remember that I was mesmerized by Chuck. Not only was he giving the the Bulls a run for their money, but he was a beast doing it. He was an inch taller than MJ (later we found out that he was actually 2 inches shorter than MJ), and he was strong and grumpy. The night he was his grumpiest, I assume, was the night the two teams went to triple overtime. I don’t remember all the details of the game, but I do know that it’s the first time my brain ever processed the phrase “triple overtime.” I mean, can you even imagine laying it all on the floor for 2.5 hours, then having to play for basically another hour? No energy. No sleep. Just adrenaline.

The night of that game, my family was at a party at a friend’s house. They didn’t have any kids my age, so I didn’t really have anyone to hang out with. And I was 8, so sit me in front of a TV or video games, and I was set. They had a TV in the basement with a Sega Master System with “Alex Kidd in Shinobi World” and “Hang On,” so I played a lot of that. But when I got tired of dying a million times, I shut off the system, and turned on the TV. And there he was, in all his rotund glory. Saying “FUCK FUCK FUCK” on national television after a call he didn’t like.

I suddenly felt shocked, but at the same time, I felt a little bit grown up. That moment was mine. It was my secret; no one else was around. I didn’t try to sneak anything past the grown-ups. I was just thrown at the big kids’ table, and I was initiated. I watched a lot more of the game, and I tried simulating dunks and “3, 2, 1, [buzzer]” fallaways while the game was going on. I didn’t want to be like Mike, though. I wanted to be like Chuck (minus the profanity in front of the parents). I didn’t stay up for the rest of the game (it was a Sunday night, and, again, I was 8), but I found out later that the Suns had won the game. Later, I also found out that the Suns had won that game in Chicago… after losing the first two games of the series at home. What a series.

To this day, every time I see him on TNT, the kid inside me smiles. Not in the same way that maybe the rest of you all smile–like, he’s saying something unexpectedly brilliant or he called someone a dummy. No, in my special way. He’s reminding me of that first time I was hooked on the Finals and hooked on the NBA. He reminds me of all the posters I I accumulated–like my Sir Charles one and my Muggsy Bogues/Shawn Bradley one. And he reminds me of that one time I bought a $1.95 book from the Scholastic book sale by counting out 195 pennies and scrawling my mom’s name on the permission slip–as if that was some sort of convincing forgery.

So, thanks, Chuck. Thanks for helping me remember. And thanks for helping me get here.

RTOE: ProBasketballDraft bridges the NCAA tourney to the NBA lottery (Part 2)

A very special RTOE for you all today. I recruited the help of the guys at ProBasketballDraft.com to help make sense of some of the choices this year’s lottery teams will have to make from the pool of NCAA talent. Joe Kotoch, Jeffrey Paadre, Jonathan Gordon, and Luka Papalko: take it away for part 2! (Note: Part 1 dropped earlier today.)

1. Hello, my name is the Cleveland Cavaliers. My team has a ton of cap space going into the off-season, not a whole lot of depth, and for some reason or another, there’s a giant, gaping hole at Small Forward. Assuming the Lakers make the playoffs and I get their pick, too, what’s my best fit in the first round of the draft?

Joe: The Cavs are a team that still can do in a few directions on draft night. I expect Cleveland to be very aggressive and package picks to move into the back end of the Lottery. In addition to both first round picks the Cavs also own their own 2nd round pick and Orlando’s too. I expect Cavs GM Chris Grant to target a few players on draft night such as Nerlens Noel, Alex Len, Otto Porter, and possibly Victor Oladipo. As for best fits, the hole at SF is gaping but a certain former Cav could return next summer and Cleveland could opt to solve that position in free agency or via trade for next year.

Jeffrey: The Cavaliers have easily the most enviable position of all of the teams in the draft lottery this season. Kyrie Irving is a franchise point guard, Tristan Thompson has been very productive, and Dion Waiters has shown spurts of greatness. Anderson Varejao won’t be around forever and if he’s available, Nerlens Noel can become the franchise’s defensive anchor for many years to come. If Noel gets swiped up before the Cavs pick, Shabazz Muhammad, Victor Oladipo, and Otto Porter all should garner interest from Cleveland. Of the three, Porter should be their top priority due to his great size for the position and amazing defense. He needs to put on a little weight but he can be the small forward of the future for Cleveland. If the Lakers make the playoffs and the Cavs get that pick as well, a player like a Rudy Gobert or an Isaiah Austin, two high potential big men, would be a home run for Cleveland later in the draft. Jeff Withey could also be a good fit later in the first round, with a potential Laker pick. He will come in, grab boards and block shots; that’s all the Cavs can ask for.

Jonathan: The first round is going to require you to break out your best undercover investigation skills. With only one predicted SF (Otto Porter) going in the top 10, it’s imperative you land him. Snoop around and see what teams in front of you are planning to do. If Porter will still be available, take Porter and use your later pick to build some depth (any position will do—you’re short-handed everywhere). If you need to trade up, offer some cash or your other pick. A young backcourt of Irving and Porter will be one of the more dynamic, exciting backcourts in the league for years to come.

Luka: Despite the Cavs having improved their team over the past two years, this still isn’t a time to be picky and pick for need. The Cavs still need to go for the best player available with their first pick and follow up with whatever they didn’t get with their second pick. Nerlens Noel is the best player in the draft and while he’s not an ideal fit with the current core, the Cavs would have to take him should they be in position to.

This is a weird draft for the Cavs with there being no true fit upfront for their needs. The only true all-around center who would fill the need is Alex Len, who teams still are trying to figure out. Otherwise, it’s either all offense and little defense (Zeller, Austin) or all defense and little offense (Cauley-Stein, Adams). So if Len doesn’t pass the test, it’s pick your poison and draft according to your philosophy: do you value interior offense or interior defense more.

On the wing, Otto Porter looks to be a perfect fit should the Cavs first pick be in the 3-7 range. He’s a guy who would fit in well with Dion Waiters and Kyrie Irving in the backcourt, being a player who can function well with or without the ball and also play solid defense on the wing. While Ben McLemore might not be an ideal fit, he still would be a good pick considering he’s a top talent and would play well off the ball in Cleveland.

In an ideal world, the Cavs get a the top pick and take Nerlens Noel and trade back into the lottery with their second pick to grab their small forward.

2. Hi there, Cleveland. Can I call you Cleveland? My name is Minnesota Timberwolves, and I wasn’t supposed to be here this year, but here I am. I know my biggest problem is injuries as opposed to depth, but I have to figure that out anyway. I guess I could probably use a Shooting Guard, but I don’t know. Like I said, I wasn’t supposed to be here. Who’s my best fit in the first round, as long as I draft in the top 13?

Joe: For the Wolves, you have to look at ways to get better along the perimeter and protect Ricky Rubio defensively. In the top 10 the Wolves should target Oladipo or Ben McLemore. However, the Wolves could be in prime position to draft a sleeper that should be a borderline lottery-pick come draft night, San Diego State’s Jamaal Franklin. Franklin does so many things well and would add much needed athleticism to a Wolves team that needs more of it. Franklin is not the best shooter but is effective and productive in many aspects of the game. He’d be an excellent fit alongside Rubio, Love, Pekovic.

Jeffrey: The T-Wolves have been brutal from beyond the arc this season. No team has shot worse than Minnesota and their 29.9 percent clip from three point land. For this season, shooting guards like Shabazz Muhammad, Victor Oladipo, and Ben McLemore should all get attention from David Kahn depending on where their pick falls. McLemore would be ideal, but he may not be around by the time the Wolves pick. Muhammad and Oladipo each would look good on the receiving end of Ricky Rubio passes for the near future. Either of them would be a welcome upgrade over Shved, who’s been wildly inconsistent this season. Another possibility, depending on what happens with Pekovic this offseason, could be Maryland’s Alex Len. Len is a legitimate big man who could compliment Kevin Love very well if the Wolves don’t re-sign Pekovic.

Jonathan: With strong players in Pekovic, Love, and Rubio, your biggest need is indeed a Shooting Guard. Lucky you! This year’s class features three premier Shooting Guards all within the top 10. Given your choices of McLemore (Kansas), Muhammad (UCLA), and Oladipo (IND), any pick would be a big improvement at the 2-position, both short-term and long-term. If all three are available, your safest bet is Oladipo. A strong rebounding guard (6.4 RPG), consistent scorer (13.6 PPG), and one of the best defenders available, Oladipo can contribute on both ends of the court. A more experienced player, Oladipo has the maturity to step in and play for a contender. Muhammad needs the ball in his hands a lot, robbing Rubio of his duties, and McLemore has struggled recently (5 points on 2-7 shooting in Big 12 Championship and 2 points on 0-9 shooting in NCAA second-round). Muhammad and McLemore have more upside and “star power”, but you don’t need that. You need a quality player able to contribute immediately. If you fall out of the top 10 and all three are gone, one option would be to draft Zeller (IND) and let Pekovic, a free agent at the end of the season, go. Pekovic will likely ask for (and get) an overvalued contract. Drafting Zeller gives you a premier big man to complement Love and opens up some cap size. On second thought, just draft a doctor.

Luka: What the Timberwolves need most is an instant impact player, which might be hard to do with this draft and with where they could be picking. The Timberwolves are a ticking time bomb as a team: David Kahn could soon be gone, Rick Adelman could too (depending on the health of his wife), Kevin Love is far from being a happy camper, they’ll have key free agents this year (Budinger & Pekovic) and not a lot on the cap for years after that. Moral of the story is if the Timberwolves want to win, they’ll need to do it ASAP.

The T’Wolves need to hope they either magically land a high enough spot to draft Ben McLemore or Shabazz Muhammad falls to wherever they end up drafting. Quite frankly, while McLemore is seen as a better prospect I’d venture to say Muhammad is a better fit for the T’Wolves. Yes his age is causing him to fall like a rock but he does the one thing they need most: score at a NBA level. Muhammad can get his shot, something McLemore is still developing right now. While Muhammad doesn’t contribute in a lot of either areas and is a ball dominant guard, the T’Wolves need his scoring and ability to create. It’s a good fit for player and team, in this case.

3. Hey guys. Orlando Magic here. You guys remember me? We were the ones that drafted back to back #1 picks in 1992 and 1993. We drafted #1 again in 2004… yada yada yada, WE’RE BACK! Did you miss us? No? Oh, ok. Well, we’ve got a LOT of young guys on our roster. Who’s part of our core going forward? Is there anyone at the top of this draft that’ll be complimentary to that core?

Joe: Well I have been predicting the Magic as the winner of the Lottery ever since the Dwight Howard saga began. Rookie GM Rob Hennigan has been masterful in acquiring young talent to build around. Obviously Nikola Vucevic has blossomed for Orlando and combined with Moe Harkless and Tobias Harris the Magic look like they have a promising front court. Going forward the Magic need to find more offense and someone who can create their own shot. Ben McLemore and Shabazz Muhammad are names to watch. However, I would not be surprised to see the Magic have Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart a top their board. Smart would be an instant mismatch nightmare at PG and could blossom into a Russell Westbrook or Derrick Rose type of physical marvel at that position. The Magic have some pieces but lack a star to build around right now.

Jeffrey: Orlando has a very nice foundation for the future. Vucevic has been a tremendous surprise and Moe Harkless has really turned it on as of late. They need a point guard at this point. A lot of their young talent is great but many of these guys have trouble creating their own shots. Marcus Smart out of Oklahoma State should be their target. He’s a big point guard with tremendous potential. Jameer Nelson has shown this season that he’s not a point guard to build around, but with Smart, Nelson could develop a little more value as an off-ball shooter.

Jonathan: You must be mistaken. The only team that plays basketball in Florida is perennial powerhouse Florida Gulf Coast University. But, for the sake of this discussion, we’ll pretend you exist. First, let’s take a look at your roster. Starting at the 1 and assuming a healthy roster, you go Nelson, Afflalo, Harris, Davis, and Vucevic. With the exception of Nelson, all five are pretty young. Vucevic has been a pleasant surprise posting double-digit rebounds (11.5 RPG) and leading the team with an 18.0 Player Efficiency Rating (PER). Afflalo has showed the ability to score (16.5 PPG). Harris and Davis have also showed bright spots. While Nelson is an Orlando favorite and has been a tremendous leader, he doesn’t have many years left. Going forward, he’s clearly the odd one out. Draft a point guard, put him under Nelson’s wing, and slowly begin the transition. Smart (Oklahoma State) appears to be the top PG in the draft and the SMARTest pick. Do your best to get him. If not, Burke (Michigan) and Carter-Williams (Syracuse) are also excellent. Then again, you don’t REALLY exist so none of this matters.

Luka: Again, like the Cavs, this is a case where the top of the draft isn’t necessarily conducive to the needs of the Magic. The Magic have a nice developing core but there’s no true dominant player at a position of need for the Magic. There is also no player on the roster that has a long-term hold at their respective starting position (except maybe for Nikola Vucevic), which means no player should be off the table.

What the Magic need most is a cornerstone piece, someone they can build around. While this draft doesn’t really have a true player at the top like that, Marcus Smart is their best bet to do so. I would usually say Nerlens Noel should be the 1st pick, but in this case Smart is rated at a similar level but fills a much larger role for the Magic. Smart would immediately come in and take over as the leader of the team. He would provide them with the ball-handler and shot creator that they need. While there are concerns about his outside shot, he’s got an extremely good work ethic and is a high character prospect. It wouldn’t surprise me at all, if Smart ended up as the best player in this draft 5 years down the road and followed in the footsteps of the new wave of point guards.

4. Yo, Cleveland. Maybe some of us don’t want the Lakers to make the playoffs. Ever thought of that? Jeez. Selfish. Oh, hi. I’m Phoenix Suns. I’m new around these parts. It’s weird to be here. Can anyone help me out? What exactly do I do here?

Joe: The last few seasons the Suns have confused many of us with their moves but they appear to be set on a complete rebuild. So Phoenix’s main issue right now is that Marcin Gortat, Goran Dragic, Jared Dudley, and Luis Scola are all at least 27 by the start of next season and considerably older in Scola’s case. The Suns have acquired the Morris twins and Kendall Marshall but have no superstars to build around and lack the youthful talent that brings optimistic energy. Perhaps no team that is lottery-bound is in more need of two top picks than the Suns. Nerlens Noel, Marcus Smart, Ben McLemore, Victor Oladipo, Shabazz Muhammad, Anthony Bennett, Alex Len, and Trey Burke are just a few examples of the type of prospects the Suns need to acquire to help their fan base cope with the beginning of the post-Nash era.

Jeffrey: Phoenix should be going in position-blind at this point. They have very few quality ballplayers and talent should certainly take precedence. It’s probably too early to admit defeat on the Kendall Marshall pick from last year, so Smart from Oklahoma State may be the one non-possibility at this point. Marshall has tremendous court vision, so why not surround him with a wing player who can score? McLemore would be ideal if he’s around but if not, Otto Porter could be a good fit here. Another guy to look at would be UNLV’s Anthony Bennett. Bennett is a hyper-athletic forward who needs to develop his wing game a little bit but has limitless potential. As an added bonus, another wing would likely mean less playing time for Michael Beasley, which can’t hurt the Suns. If they get the Lakers pick, a proven winner like CJ McCollum could be another good fit late in the lottery. He can create his own shot and is a deadly shooter.

Jonathan:

Step 1: Begin (continue?) tanking to ensure a higher draft pick.
Step 2: Justify your tanking by playing “young, unproven rookies who need experience.”
Step 3: Acknowledge that your top three scorers (Dragic, Scola, and Gortat) are all international players.
Step 4: Continue international presence by drafting other international players.
Step 5: Draft Rudy Gobert, a 7-1 French center with a 7-9 wingspan.
Step 6: Draft Dario Saric, a 6-10 Croation small forward with Toni Kukoc comparisons.
Step 7: Rename yourself the “European Suns” and relocate overseas.

Luka: Well, it would be best if Robert Sarver sold the team but we all know the likelihood of that happening any time soon is slim. After forcing him out doesn’t happen, management needs to figure out a direction of the team. Does it want to win now or does it want to build for the future? The moves last off-season (signing Scola, trading for Beasley, and still having terrible contracts on the books) seem to make one believe the Suns thought they could compete this year and we all see how that’s going.

So what they need to do is cut bait, start over and build for the future. There are some decent pieces there but they don’t have any true cornerstone players, just a bunch of okay young guys. They need to be hoping for a top-3 pick and grab a cornerstone offensive player or else they’ll likely be adding to the limited, but decent group of talented young players. A guy like McLemore, Oladipo or Porter could help but doesn’t give them the offense they need.

Anthony Bennett is the guy they really need to be hoping for, Yes they have the Morris twins but neither of them can do what Bennett can do. Bennett will remind Suns fans of Amar’e Stoudemire, for both good and bad. He’s arguably the best, most versatile offensive player and quite the athlete for his size. Going out to Phoenix, he would hope to form a new era duo for Steve Nash and Amare’ with Dragic.

5. Will you guys keep it down in here? Some of us regulars are trying to THINK. Sometimes, guys like us don’t get respect from any of these up-and-comers, know what I mean, Charlotte?

I sure do, Sacramento. Say… what are you guys looking for this year?

… I was about to ask you the same thing.

Joe: It seems like every year you can count on taxes and the Kings and Bobcats to be in the lottery. Starting with MJ’s crew the Bobcats are a league-worst right now but the Bobcat never seem to be fortunate enough to win the lottery. In a year where it is this wide-open the Bobcats can sit back and let McLemore, Smart, Muhammad, Noel, and Bennett all try to impress enough them. Unfortunately the Bobcats really need the one-and-done rule abolished so they can draft Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, or Julius Randle. None of the top prospects in this draft cycle will give the Bobcats the star they desperately seek.

The Kings have been a mess this year and the ownership is a joke. While Kevin Johnson continues to do an admirable job to save the Kings the issues start at the top and run into the front office, which has become stale. The Kings stockpile the best players every year but have no sense on how to build a team. Having given up on Thomas Robinson in his rookie year I would not feel comfortable with any member of the current front office returning or drafting, if I were a Kings fan. Will Tyreke Evans return? Has DeMarcus Cousins played himself out of Sacramento? What is going on with this roster? So many questions need to be answered. Objectively speaking if Evans is not re-signed than the Kings need to find perimeter scoring and McLemore would be the best fit but Muhammad would bring more baggage, which seems like a must for any potential King under this regime. Marcus Smart would be a great addition here as well.

Jeffrey: First to Sacramento, other than keeping Thomas Robinson for more than half a season? Maybe it’s time to finally grab a point guard. The Kings have relied for far too long with small, shoot first guards like Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Thornton, Jimmer Fredette, etc. If Marcus Smart is available, grab him and don’t think twice. He’ll help change some of the culture around the team. If he’s not, Michael Carter-Williams would be a great fit. He’s a pass first point guard, with super potential due to his size and court vision, two things that the Kings’ guards have lacked recently.

For Charlotte, Kemba Walker looks like he’s got the potential to help the team going forward, and Gerald Henderson just said he wanted to be a Bobcat next year, so that’s a plus. Nerlens Noel is a great fit for every team, but with Bismack Biyombo, two athletic, defensive big men who are raw offensively may be a bit too redundant. That or it could be the foundation for an up-and-coming defense, but since they’re committed to Biyombo and MKG, a scoring wing to play the two is a must. McLemore should be priority 1, but if they don’t luck out with the one pick, Shabazz Muhammad should be where they look.

Jonathan: Welcome back guys, you two have set a great example on how to consistently get top picks. Two franchises looking for an identity (and, in one case, a new home), you guys have to go big here. Get some top talent, get fans in seats, and get people to remember you exist. While some of these players may be riskier than other first-round talent, they have the biggest upside and could be a franchise-changer. Players to consider: Noel (Kentucky), McLemore (Kansas), Smart (OK State), Porter (Georgetown), Bennett (UNLV), and Muhammad (UCLA). If either of you draw the lucky #1 pick, take Noel. “But he’s hurt!” Yes. But he will be better. Noel provides a stable centerpiece for a rebuilding franchise. Putting Noel in the middle makes everyone else’s job a lot easier. The other five are all premier scorers. Take your pick and hope he goes off for 30+ a night. If not, I’ll see you again next year.

Luka: Sacramento is looking to stay in Sacramento, first and foremost. If they can’t stay in Sacramento, which I think we all hope happens, then this draft won’t matter. But in hoping they do stay in Sacramento, they need to draft for fit more than any other team. Year after year Petrie has thrown together a bunch of square pegs in round holes and hoped it’s worked. So far his plan, which has been doomed from the start, has worked at keeping the Kings in the cellar. In addition to drafting for need, the Kings need to draft a high character, high intangible player. With DeMarcus Cousins and Tyreke Evans as the leaders of the team, it’s not hard to figure out why this team has long been a very immature one. Really any one of Marcus Smart, Otto Porter or Victor Oladipo would fit what the Kings should be looking for. But I would be quite curious to see what Trey Burke could do in trying to change the culture out West.

Luckily for the Bobcats, Kemba Walker looks to be developing and worth the 9th overall selection back in 2011. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Bismack Biyombo look like quite the defensive foundation but the offensive side has seen mixed results for them. What the Bobcats need most is what Michael Jordan never had problem himself finding: scoring. They need an offensive option worth a damn and someone who can get his own shot. Anthony Bennett or Shabazz Muhammad would both fill this hole and give them someone who they can rely on scoring wise. Both have their flaws but they’re flaws you can live with as the Bobcats when you need someone to score a basket, considering they’re near the bottom the league in scoring.

RTOE: ProBasketballDraft bridges the NCAA tourney to the NBA lottery (Part 1)

A very special RTOE for you all today. I recruited the help of the guys at ProBasketballDraft.com to help make sense of some of the choices this year’s lottery teams will have to make from the pool of NCAA talent. Eric PalutsisIan Levy, Fred Katz, and Ryan Glassman: take it away for part 1! (Note: Part 2 dropped later today.)

1. Hello, my name is the Cleveland Cavaliers. My team has a ton of cap space going into the off-season, not a whole lot of depth, and for some reason or another, there’s a giant, gaping hole at Small Forward. Assuming the Lakers make the playoffs and I get their pick, too, what’s my best fit in the first round of the draft?

Eric: As tough as it is to believe right now, with the Cavs blowing huge second half leads to Miami and Boston in recent games, it was not too long ago that Cleveland was actually lighting up scoreboards with an offensive rating over 110 during the month of February. Obviously the lack of depth has reared its ugly head with injuries to Kyrie Irving and now Dion Waiters but the larger issue has been terrible defense, specifically an atrocious interior defense. Tyler Zeller just is just not cutting it inside right now. Best case scenario for the Cavs? Win the lottery and draft Nerlens Noel, his shot-blocking and interior defensive presence is something that Cleveland has sorely been missing. If Noel is gone by the time the Cavs are picking in June, I don’t know that there is another big man worth taking that high; I would lean towards someone like Victor Oladipo who can become the lock-down perimeter defender that Cleveland has been lacking since a certain someone took his talents to South Beach. Arguments could be made for a small forward like Otto Porter to take some of the scoring load off of Irving but a scorer like Kentucky’s Alex Poythress or even Michigan’s Glenn Robinson III (assuming they throw their names in the draft) could be had later in the first round with the Lakers pick.

Ian: The continued development of Dion Waiters, paired with the continued brilliance of Kyrie Irving means the Cavaliers have some stout cinderblocks laid in the foundation of their backcourt. There are a couple of intriguing options from them at the top of the draft. Indiana University wing, Victor Oladipo could be a solid fit alongside Irving and Waiters.

Oladipo is an elite perimeter defender with the ability to make an instant impact at that end of the floor. On offense he’s a terrific finisher and has grown into a respectable outside shooter. His ceiling at that end of the floor is probably as a very efficient complementary player, but that’s exactly the ingredient Cleveland is missing. Oladipo is probably a hair shorter than the 6’5″ he’s listed at, but with a wingspan stretchy enough to help defend small forwards in a pinch. Although he probably isn’t the starting small forward answer, his elite defense and complimentary offensive game mean he could be a nice third-guard, playing alongside either Waiters or Irving and stretching into the small forward role when matchups allow.

Another option is 6’8″ wing, Otto Porter, from Georgetown. A defensive prospect equally as intriguing as Oladipo, Porter has the size to fully inhabit the Alonzo Gee shaped hole at small forward. Offensively Porter has the potential to develop a much more well-rounded game than Oladipo and is already a more polished ball-handler and shot creator.

Fred: Well, Cleveland, that all depends on how much you luck out (or unluck out) in the lottery. If you end up with the first or second overall pick, you kind of have to take Nerlens Noel, don’t you? I know Anderson Varejao is a quality player. I know he was having a great season until he went down for the year only 25 games in. I know your fans love him. But is he the guy that’s going to take you to the promise land with Kyrie?

Realistically, next year is still a building year for you. You won’t be “there” yet. Meanwhile, Andy is going to be on an expiring $9.1 million deal with a team option for the next year at $9.8 million. That’s pretty team friendly. A lot of contenders that are one big short would love to take a team-oriented guy, who was averaging 14.1 points and 14.4 rebounds before he got hurt this year, on a contract like that. You can get legitimate value back for him. So trade Andy and move on with a core of Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson, and Noel. That’s pretty strong.

If you fall lower, which you probably will, the small forward route is the way to go. You need rebounding – especially to compensate for Waiters, who is weak in that area. Shabazz Muhammad and Otto Porter would both fit that mold, but since Kyrie is already a natural scorer and Dion goes for more aimless Runaround Sues than anyone else in the league, Porter may serve as a better Cav complement than Shabazz.

Ryan: Cleveland, I love what you’re doing in the backcourt with the scoring tandem of Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters. Up front, Tristan Thompson looks like he can be a solid forward for a long time, and hopefully you can continue to get some good production from Andy Varejao next season. But before you guys get serious about taking the leap to playoff contender in the Eastern Conference, you need a player to fill in at SF for Alonzo Gee. Gee is probably better suited to play off of the bench than start alongside a pair of scorers in the backcourt, where his shots are limited.

What the Cavs need in that starting spot is a versatile player that can guard wings, rebound, and get his points without having to dominate the ball, a guy like Georgetown’s Otto Porter. In a weak draft class, there may not be more of a sure thing than Porter, a stat sheet stuffer that will contribute consistently on both ends of the ball. Porter has the frame and athleticism to guard elite wings at the NBA level, and also already has a refined midrange game that fits well alongside the perimeter-oriented games of Irving and Waiters. Porter may not have the superstar ceiling of some other prospects, but with one of the league’s best young talents already on your roster, all you need is a player that can contribute from Day 1, and add talent and depth to the team. The Porter pick allows you to look to a scorer in the frontcourt with the Lakers’ pick, where a skilled big like Kelly Olynyk makes a lot of sense.

2. Hi there, Cleveland. Can I call you Cleveland? My name is Minnesota Timberwolves, and I wasn’t supposed to be here this year, but here I am. I know my biggest problem is injuries as opposed to depth, but I have to figure that out anyway. I guess I could probably use a Shooting Guard, but I don’t know. Like I said, I wasn’t supposed to be here. Who’s my best fit in the first round, as long as I draft in the top 13?

Eric: The Timberwolves situation is perplexing, to say the least. Injuries have obviously ruined this season but that means the pieces should still be in place for a dramatic improvement next season, especially with how much better Ricky Rubio has been playing as of late. That being said, Minnesota could certainly use an improvement at small forward and they would love to have a shot at Otto Porter if they were drafting in the top five. However, it is highly unlikely that the Timberwolves will be drafting that high a perimeter scorer like Shabazz Muhammad could be in play. Muhammad’s ability to play the 2 or the 3 would also allow Minnesota more lineup flexibility, shifting him to shooting guard in order to put a Derrick Williams-Kevin Love-Nikola Pekovic frontcourt on the floor.

Ian: The Timberwolves shooting guard rotation has definitely been a steaming pile of Shved this season, ranking near the league’s basement in both offensive and defensive competency. A player like Oladipo could be a nice fit, as could one of the more-scoring focused guards like Ben McLemore, Shabazz Muhammad or Gary Harris. However, looking into the not-too-distant future, the challenges of keeping Kevin Love happy and Nikola Pekovic affordable mean that shoring up depth in the front-court may be more important.

A healthy Nerlens Noel would be a dream. Actual Nerlens Noel, with an unsettled medical chart, would be exciting but certainly not settle any stomachs at the Target Center. Either of those scenarios would probably require moving up significantly in the lottery. If the Timberwolves stay in their slot and decide to chase size, a project like Alex Len or Rudy Gobert could make sense. Gobert brings a sloppy swirl of tightly wound energy and athleticism, with a significant amount of polish standing between his present-day self and an extended NBA career. Len has a broader foundation of skill to fall back on than Gobert, but needs just as much development to reach his true potential.

Fred: Your best bet might be taking someone out of med school. Or maybe you should trade for Pau Gasol. I know you’ve always liked him and he really wants to be a doctor. You have to promise you won’t tell the other lottery teams what I’m about to tell you: you should’ve made the playoffs. You have a better roster than any of these other teams. You just got really unlucky. But seriously, Minnesota, don’t tell any of those other guys I just said that. I don’t want to get in trouble.

That said, you really need shooting. What happened to you guys? You know you’re under 30 percent from three right now, right? So who can shoot? Shabazz Muhammad can. Ben McLemore can make his long-range shots when he’s hot. Otto Porter seems to have pretty good range. Any of those guys would work and any of those guys would be able to stay with you on a cheap deal after Andrei Kirilenko’s contract runs up.

Ryan: Injuries aside, Minnesota, you need to add some guys to the roster that can score from the perimeter. An offensive rating rank of 24 has got to improve to match the team’s average to above-average defensive output if you want to push for the playoffs with a hopefully healthy roster next season. There’s a guy out west whose stock has gone down recently, but whose game I still like, and I think would fit your roster pretty well. I can’t tell you with certainty how old he is, but I can tell you that there may not be a scorer in this draft as naturally gifted as UCLA’s Shabazz Muhammad.

The Bruins freshman has a knack for scoring the ball, and can play at the next level from the 2 or at times the 3. He plays extremely hard, finishes well at the rim, and is a great shooter from the midrange and beyond once he is able to get his feet set. Muhammad is a guy that may not challenge for any scoring titles, but should be able to average 15-18 PPG for a long time with his offensive skill set. Playing in the backcourt with a guy like Ricky Rubio that loves to get up the floor and hit open shooters, Muhammad has the opportunity to thrive with the Timberwolves as a scorer that can get his points from all over the floor, in both transition and in half court sets.

3. Hey guys. Orlando Magic here. You guys remember me? We were the ones that drafted back to back #1 picks in 1992 and 1993. We drafted #1 again in 2004… yada yada yada, WE’RE BACK! Did you miss us? No? Oh, ok. Well, we’ve got a LOT of young guys on our roster. Who’s part of our core going forward? Is there anyone at the top of this draft that’ll be complimentary to that core?

Eric: The Magic currently have five rookies on their roster as they try to rebuild and put the saga of the Dwight Howard years behind them. Andrew Nicholson and Mo Harkless have shown glimpses and have the potential to be effective NBA players but no one is going to confuse them with future superstars. Wait and see is the best case scenario for the rest but that means Orlando has plenty of options of where to go with the likely No. 2 overall pick. A shooting guard is likely the most pressing need, so a high-ceiling player like Kansas’ Ben McLemore, considered by many to be the second best player in the entire draft, could certainly fit the bill. A number of mock drafts also have point guard Marcus Smart rising up draft boards thanks to his superior size and athleticism. Either guard would be nice complements to the rest of the Magic’s young squad and have the raw, high-ceiling potential to develop into the star Orlando desperately needs.

Ian: This pick, likely at the top of the lottery, offers the Magic a golden opportunity to move past the Jameer Nelson era. Oklahoma State point guard, Marcus Smart, seems like the most obvious choice. He has all the tools to be an elite point guard and just needs some time to refine and align them. Most intriguing is the way his physical style complements his bulldog personality. This combination could be the perfect elixir to pull together all the talented young pieces the Magic have assembled and start driving them in the same direction.

Fred: You’re full of weirdos. You have some nice veteran guys. You have some good, young players. I like Andrew Nicholson, Moe Harkless, Nikola Vucevic, and Tobias Harris. You have a good coach in Jacque Vaughn. How the heck are you only a half a game better than the Bobcats?

You guys seriously need some shooters. We’ve learned that Arron Afflalo makes his jumpers when he’s open, but doesn’t make him create threes for himself. That means you should probably go with Marcus Smart, who can’t shoot from long range just yet, but probably will be able to in the future. More importantly, Smart can create open looks for other guys. I know you don’t want to hear this right now, Orlando, but Jameer Nelson is no longer an All-Star point guard. He’s Janearing the end so remember that next year should just be your next step to improvement. It’s not a sprint. It’s a Jameerathon.

Ryan: Orlando! First and foremost, let me credit you in trying to make the best of that messy Dwight Howard situation last year. Looking around at a few of your trade partners, I think you guys actually made off okay in that one. I love the games of Tobias Harris and Maurice Harkless, two very young and athletic wings that have improved with more minutes this season. They are definitely an important part of your core going forward. Nikola Vucevic was the steal of that entire draft, an elite rebounder that adds youth and athleticism to the front line, while Andrew Nicholson is an appealing prospect that can score both inside and out. I think each of those four guys, with Arron Afflalo adding some scoring and defense on the wing, each ought to be a part of the blueprint going forward. What your team needs now is a sense of identity. You have these four young guys that each fill a role, but now you need a floor general to set the tone on both ends, especially with the pending team option for Jameer Nelson’s contract after the ’13-’14 season.

There is not a better fit for the Magic in this draft than Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart, a point guard that brings elite leadership and toughness to every team he plays for. Smart if a strong, physical guard, a great athlete that loves to get into the lane and can finish at the rim against length and size. He has good court vision and can lead the break, and can also rebound extremely well for his position. Smart fits the best on a young roster like yours, where he can come in and breed a mentality of toughness and competitiveness from Day 1. I love Marcus Smart’s leadership skills and overall motor, and think they would be an outstanding fit with your talented but young roster.

4. Yo, Cleveland. Maybe some of us don’t want the Lakers to make the playoffs. Ever thought of that? Jeez. Selfish. Oh, hi. I’m Phoenix Suns. I’m new around these parts. It’s weird to be here. Can anyone help me out? What exactly do I do here?

Eric: The Suns could really use a scorer to add to their roster–no player on the current roster is averaging more than 15 points per game. With Phoenix likely to pick in or around the top five, the Suns should be praying that Otto Porter drops to wherever they are drafting. A dynamic scorer, Porter should be able to be plugged into the Suns’ lineup right away and has the intangibles that scouts drool over. He would certainly give Phoenix a consistent scoring option with a high motor, night in and night out. If Porter is not available, Muhammad is another player who projects as a consistent NBA scorer, although he is considered to be more one-dimensional than Porter and does not bring nearly as much to the table.

Ian: The Phoenix Suns draft board should be wide open. Priorities number 1-5 are adding talented basketball players. Priority number 6 is figuring out where they fit. The Suns don’t really appear to be tied to anyone other than Goran Dragic, but even that could go out the window if someone like Marcus Smart fell into their lap. They don’t have to hit a home run, but they can’t afford any wild swings and misses.

Players with refined, if limited games, like Victor Oladipo, Cody Zeller or C.J. McCollum may be interesting to them. I’m guessing the Shabazz Muhammad – Michael Beasley vibe hits a little too close to home, but they could also chase a player like Otto Porter, Anthony Bennett or James McAdoo, who may not hit their considerable ceilings but have a talent versatile enough to all but ensure they become regular NBA contributors.

Fred: Phoenix, I don’t know what you’re doing with your life right now. I think this is the point where your parents need to give you a stern talk. It feels like the only asset you have at this point is your training staff. Knowing you, you’ll probably make some pick that makes absolutely no sense and it’ll be backed by the logic of, “How do we make this work with Michael Beasley?” People are laughing at you, Phoenix. They’re all laughing at you!

Can you at least get someone to help with your three-point defense? Did you know that opponents are shooting 39.5 percent against you, worst in the NBA? Judging from the way you play, I’m guessing that’s a no. Well, Victor Oladipo could help with that. Have you seen him on the perimeter? I don’t care that his offense may turn him into a one-dimensional, catch-and-shoot player. Tony Allen with catch-and-shoot ability or Thabo Sefolosha with potentially better defense is pretty darn valuable. So make that pick not because he works well with Goran Dragic and Beasley, but because it makes sense.

Ryan: Phoenix, sad to see you down here, but I guess things have to get worse before they can get better. The roster looks to be in a state of flux right now, but the biggest need to me appears to be scoring, from just about every position on the roster. Without a guy averaging 15 points a game this season, I think the move in the draft is to look at some athletes that can score and get up and down the floor. A lot of this depends on where this pick ends up, but a guy I like for your team is Kansas freshman Ben McLemore.

In a draft class where draft boards are more of a flavor-of-the-month posting than a concrete standing of the top prospects, McLemore is a guy currently on the downswing because of a lackluster NCAA Tournament thus far. But, although he is criticized for being a bit passive at time, the guard is still an elite shooting prospect with NBA range and athleticism. At his best, McLemore is a dynamic scorer that can beat you from outside or get to the rim and finish with his explosive leaping ability. McLemore is a good rebounder for his position, and has the physical tools to improve into a very god defender. But his upside as a potential top-5 pick is as a deep range shooter with great athleticism and a quick release on his jump shot. Playing alongside Goran Dragic, a guard who loves to get up and down the floor and create looks for others, McLemore has the chance to contribute early on as a shooter and improve as he becomes better at creating offense off the dribble.

5. Will you guys keep it down in here? Some of us regulars are trying to THINK. Sometimes, guys like us don’t get respect from any of these up-and-comers, know what I mean, Charlotte?

I sure do, Sacramento. Say… what are you guys looking for this year?

… I was about to ask you the same thing.

Eric: For Charlotte and Sacramento, the general consensus has to be that anything is better than what is currently in place. With only a few pieces to build around for each team they could go any number of directions and likely (hopefully) be better off. For Charlotte, actually winning the lottery for once would be huge, especially because it would mean earning the right to draft Noel. While he does not project to be the same franchise player that Anthony Davis did a year ago, Noel’s defensive abilities and raw athleticism would still be a huge upgrade over Bismack Biyombo. Charlotte may also have Portland’s first round pick (top 12 protected) and could draft a shooter like C.J. McCollum to space the floor between Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.

As for the Kings, after trading last year’s first round pick Thomas Robinson, Sacramento could go after a power forward once again and UNLV’s Anthony Bennett would be great fit, potentially becoming a great complement to DeMarcus Cousins. However, unless the Kings land in the top five, Bennett will likely be gone, so an electric point guard like Trey Burke could make sense as a steady hand to lead the Kings’ offense.

Ian: The short answer is that I have no idea. Sacramento appears to be taking the Jackson Pollock approach to team building, just throwing paint at the wall, hoping something beautiful emerges. Charlotte apparently has some sort of plan, but I’m not sure they can read it. Shabazz Muhammad’s elite scoring and questionable decision-making seem like a perfect fit for the maelstrom in Sacramento. Charlotte likely ends up with the top pick which gives them the opportunity to take Nerlens Noel and experiment with a Noel, Biyombo, Kidd-Gilchrist two-on-five offensive attack.

Fred: I’ll address my two most troubled students separately for this one. Sacramento, I don’t know what you’re doing defensively, but the good news is I don’t think you do either. So get someone who can at least give you some defense. Oladipo would work if he is still on the board when you pick. So would Porter. The knock on Anthony Bennett is that he’s a 6-foot-7 power forward, but height being important is one of the biggest myths in all of basketball. Let’s see how Bennett’s wingspan measures up before the NBA Draft. I’m betting he’s more than qualified to guard NBA forwards. And if you decide not to draft Bennett because you’ve already got Patrick Patterson and Jason Thompson, then shame on you.

And you, Charlotte. At least you have Kemba Walker. I guess the only way the season could go worse for you is if you don’t get the first overall pick, which would be both hilarious and depressing if that scenario played out two years in a row. If you end up picking first, don’t think about the injury and take Nerlens Noel. Do you see how well everyone is recovering from ACLs nowadays? Well, I’m betting that a 19-year-old kid recovering from injury is less of a risk than Ben McLemore (who goes more silent than Charlie Chaplin for oddly long stretches), Marcus Smart (who is athletic and looks like he could definitely improve, but who struggles with shot selection and shot 40.4 percent from the field and 29.0 percent from three this year), Cody Zeller (who had about every single one of his flaws exposed against Syracuse), and Shabazz Muhammad (who might not have the athleticism to guard bigger and faster NBA wings on the perimeter). Go with Noel, let his offensive game develop, let him dominate on the defensive end, and give yourself a defensive anchor for the first time in your franchise’s history. It’s the right thing to do.

Ryan: Alright guys, lets try to actually get this right this year. Sacramento, let’s start with you. There are a lot of pieces on this roster with talent that can score, but the pieces just don’t seem to fit together. A guy like Victor Oladipo makes a lot of sense for this team, considering the work ethic and intensity that he brings from the wing position. But I’m afraid his meteoric rise has taken him higher in the draft than where you will be picking. A nice option for you guys, and a guy that just knocked Oladipo out of the tournament, is Syracuse point guard Michael Carter-Williams. Tyreke Evans and Isaiah Thomas are both talented players, but are not true pass-first point guards dedicated to getting looks for others. Carter-Williams, with his great size, length, and court vision, is an elite passer that can create offense for others both in transition and in the half court. Carter-Williams would bring the Kings a true passer to distribute the looks for everybody else, a talent that your team desperately needs.

And as for you, Charlotte, another year at the bottom of the league brings a new set of needs when looking at the draft. I like what you have out on the perimeter with Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, but its time to look inside and try and improve upon that league-worst defense. In spite of his ACL injury, I think taking Nerlens Noel makes a lot of sense for you guys. As good a shot-blocking prospect as there has been in years, including Anthony Davis, Noel has the potential to immediately anchor a defense as a rim-protector along the front line. But where Noel has a lot of upside, and where I don’t think he gets enough credit already, is on the offensive end. Noel’s post game got better in his year at Kentucky, and he has the coordination and athleticism to blossom into a very solid back-to-the-basket player down the line. But Noel is one of the league’s best shot blockers from the moment he makes his debut, a rare trait that NBA teams such as the Bobcats should hold in high regard.

Kendall Marshall: Social Media Superhero

 

Photo by malabooboo via Flickr

Photo by malabooboo via Flickr

Q.: How would you describe your Twitter personality? It seems like an alter-ego.

A.: (Laughs) It’s way different from how I actually am. I’m always by myself, isolated. If I don’t know people, I don’t talk to them. I’m real withdrawn. Twitter is basically my social life because I’m by myself a lot. It’s cool to have fun, interact with people and see what people are talking about. I think I’m way more outgoing on Twitter with people I don’t know.

via Give and go with … Phoenix Suns point guard Kendall Marshall.

Kendall Marshall has been there.

For all his prowess and potential with a basketball in his hands, Marshall remains a young man removed from his social group, striking out on a chance to make it big in his chosen profession. Save a few fleeting glances to check in with the past, college is in his rearview mirror, clear as day. The view ahead, though, may as well be midnight on a north Texas highway with two broken headlights. Marshall, like most newly minted adults fresh out of college, is navigating with his fenders, hoping and praying that this path through the darkness is the right one — or at the very least, will keep him alive until morning. He seems to know whom he can trust, and he trusts accordingly. He tells Paul Coro that he still texts his North Carolina teammates daily, even if it’s just to see how practice went. But Kendall Marshall, in his own words, isn’t going to go out of his way to be your friend.*

*But he’s exceedingly polite, even when people ask really dumb questions at Summer League, and you can just tell that he wants to roll his eyes at y…the people asking dumb questions. He doesn’t, though, and he patiently answers the question, because he’s a professional.

@KButter5 doesn’t really get that. He’s a social media superhero. He’s BTB Man,* champion of basketball twitter, ready to dispense dimes of knowledge all over your cranial capacity. He’ll tell you to be yourself because that’s the best self you can be, like he’s a modern Stuart Smalley — and dammit, people like him. When Marshall slips on his mask, he’s the basketball player we need and the one we deserve. His willingness to interact with seemingly anyone on twitter is endearing, particularly coupled with a sense of honesty that Marshall admits might get him in trouble.

*“BTB” is hard to explain, mostly because if I try to explain it, a large swath of basketball twitter is going to find my house and destroy me. It’s an acronym that conveys a certain sense of understanding, and Kendall Marshall adopted it this summer. In doing so, he became kind of a cult hero to that same segment of twitter.

Marshall’s social media personality is, apparently, just that. In reality, he’s a 21-year old young man who enjoys his privacy and keeps his friends as close to his heart as possible — regardless of the distance their chosen paths may put between them. If he feels like branching out and talking to new people, then he has the beauty of twitter, where even someone we’ve seen in the flesh can somehow remain anonymous. He misses his friends and enjoys his visits to his old stomping grounds, but he wouldn’t trade his current situation for the world. He’s in on the ground floor of an exciting new business opportunity for Kendall Marshall, Incorporated. And he brought BTB Man along for the ride. It all sounds strangely normal.

Until you realize, of course, that most of us don’t start in the mail room with Michael Beasley.

Correlation Between NetRtg and Quarter

What quarter deserves the most attention when trying to draw a link between NetRtg (points scored per 100 possessions minus points allowed per 100 possessions) and winning? What does it take to be number one?

In each season, beginning with the 2007-2008 campaign, the most linked quarterly Rtg (offensive or defensive) was the first quarter. A poor DefRtg in the first 12 minutes resulted in the highest Loss Correlation in each of the past five seasons.

Also, fans like to obsess over the fourth quarter scoring (How often have you heard, “Kobe is the most clutch player of all time” or early in his career “LeBron freezes up down the stretch and couldn’t finish a game is his life depended on it”?), but is that really all that important? The average Win Correlation for OffRtg (how directly tied the game result is to the number of points scored per 100 possessions) is lower in the fourth quarter than the average of quarters one through three in every single season since 2007. This stat indicates that the offensive efficiency prior to the fourth quarter is consistently more crucial to winning that what a team does in the final 12 minutes.

In fact, if you’re still going to look at the fourth quarter as the most crucial of quarters, you’re better off looking at the defensive efficiency. In three of the five seasons studied, the average Loss Correlation for DefRtg was higher in the fourth quarter than the average of the first three quarters three times.

When analyzing the data from the past five seasons, it becomes obvious that games are won in the early going, as opposed to the final few minutes. Success is ultimately determined by victories and the wins leader (Lakers with 277) has the greatest cumulative first quarter NetRtg (48.2) over the last five seasons. Coincidence? I think not.

The total number of wins by the quarterly NetRtg leader decreases as you progress through the game. But this trend isn’t only true for the elite teams, it holds true for the NBA as a whole. The top 17 teams in terms of wins over the last five seasons are the exact same 17 teams that lead the way in cumulative first quarter NetRtg. Here is a look at how each team stacked up in total wins and cumulative NetRtg by quarter since 2007.

Win Chart

 

Top 10

 

Middle 10

 

Bottom 10

Further disproving the myth of fourth quarter efficiency and its overall importance is the overall trend of the top teams in NetRtg and the bottom teams in NetRtg . Now, one must acknowledge the fact that blowouts do play a role in the late game data and not the early game stats, but with five years of games (394 games per team), the vast majority of games are competitive throughout. Even during a game which has for all intensive purposes been decided with considerable time left on the clock, both teams will turn to their reserves, thus not skewing the data a whole lot. Take a glance at the trend of the best team/worst team in terms of cumulative NetRtg by quarter.

First Place

NetRtg Last Place

As you can see, the worst team in the league (in terms of cumulative NetRtg) improves as the game progresses while the best team gets worse. The gap from the best team to the worst team shrinks from 94.5 in the first quarter to 59.4 in the fourth stanza, a 37.1% drop off.

With all of this data surrounding the fact that the best team excels early in the game, it would only follow that the best player in the world would be associated with a similar trend. Since 2008-2009, no player has won more games than LeBron James (231) and his teams have dominated in the first quarter. In the last four seasons, James’ team has had a first quarter cumulative NetRtg of 47.5, far and away tops in the league. While his fourth quarter efficiency is still very good (27.2) in those seasons, that represents a 42.7% downward trend.

 LeBron James Pie

 If your gut feeling is to blame that disparity on James’ slow developing “clutch gene”, consider that Kobe Bryant’s Lakers (the most successful franchise over the last five seasons) have seen their cumulative NetRtg drop by 72% from the first to the fourth quarter.

Kobe Bryant Pie

 What could this trend of production early in games tell us about the future?

Since the 2007-2008 season the East has gradually improved and finally overtook the West as the better conference when it comes to playoff teams. The 2007-2008 Eastern Conference playoff teams (Celtics, Pistons, Magic, Cavs, Wizards, Raptors, 76ers, Hawks) had an average NetRtg of 3.2, with four teams logging a negative NetRtg. It was a top heavy conference, as the top three seeds had the highest NetRtg’s in the NBA. The Western Conference, however, had the next eight highest NetRtg totals from its playoff teams (Lakers, Hornets, Spurs, Jazz, Rockets, Suns, Mavs, Nuggets) and averaged a far superior 5.84 NetRtg.

Since that point in time, however, the Eastern playoff teams have cut into that gap until finally passing their Western counterparts last season. Despite a minor regression in 2009-2010, the East teams have gained ground on the West in average NetRtg (trailed by 2.64 in 2007-2008, by 0.68 in 2008-2009, 0.87 in 2009-2010, by 0.37 in 2010-2011) before finally breaking through with a higher NetRtg by 1.24 last season. Instead of being a top heavy conference, the East boasted five of the top seven playoff teams in total NetRtg.

Production in the first half of games appears to be directly correlated with this changing of the guard. In 2007-2008, the Western Conference playoff teams averaged a NetRtg of 12.3 in the first half of games, a number that was 40.2% greater than the Eastern Conference playoff teams. The East gradually chipped away at that difference by cutting the disparity to 16.2% the next season and 2.8% in 2009-2010. The East broke through last season, as their NetRtg was 13.9% greater than that of the West. They were able to make these strides specifically due to their strong play in the second quarter. Back in 2007-2008, the average Western Conference playoff team had a NetRtg that was 3.1 points better than the Eastern teams in the second quarter alone. Fast forward to the 2011-2012 season, and the Eastern teams had a NetRtg 1.69 points higher than the West.

Since the 2007-2008 season, the Eastern Conference has won 14 games (five seasons) in the Finals. They had won only 17 since the Michael Jordan era (nine seasons) ended in 1997-1998. The bottom feeders in the East are as bad as ever, but are we seeing a changing of the guard at the top of these conferences?

Reverse Gentry-fication

Fire by andrewmalone via flickr

Fire by andrewmalone via flickr

And the coaching carousel continues to turn. Today, Alvin Gentry and the Phoenix Suns mutually agreed to part ways, according to ESPN.com

 

We really shouldn’t be surprised by this. The Suns are awful, sporting a Western Conference-worst 13-28 record. According to Basketball-Reference, Phoenix ranks 23rd in Offensive Rating at 102.8, 25th in Defensive Rating at 107.5, and first in Michael Beasleys; clearly a recipe for disaster.

 

 

The Suns aren’t completely devoid of talent: Goran Dragic is a very good point guard, Marcin Gortat is a double-double machine, and Jared Dudley is a valuable floor spacer and defender. However, none of those players are of the superstar variety, and the rest of the roster looks like someone missed their fantasy draft and was thus punished by his or her friends. Truly, Phoenix’s depth chart is less of a team and more a patchwork of second/multiple chance players (Wesley Johnson, Sebastian Telfair, the aforementioned Beas), amnesty-waiver claims such as Luis Scola, and young players that are borderline starting caliber, like Markieff Morris. Certainly, this isn’t a team that instills fear in their opposition, but it just as certainly doesn’t instill confidence in the team’s coach.

 

Gentry thus becomes a victim of his surroundings, as, save for this season in which they signed Dragic and made a doomed-from-the-start play for Eric Gordon, Robert Sarver is loath to overspend even one cent. Unfortunately, in the NBA, overspending is the only way to attract top-tier free agents, and by not doing so, the Suns more often than not find themselves either empty handed, or with underwhelming loot, at the end of the free-agency frenzy. Thus, while Sarver’s free agent strategy, to say nothing of his penchant for trading away first round picks, is good for his pocketbook, he’s costing his team wins.

 

Additionally, Gentry had the misfortune of dealing with a “hangover” season of sorts, as the Suns lost their best player, heart, and soul when they traded Steve Nash to the Los Angeles Lakers. It’d be easy to point to Orlando as an example of a team that lost their superstar yet aren’t suffering from this hangover, but comparing Steve Nash’s professionalism to that of Dwight Howard is like comparing Tim Duncan’s defensive acumen to that of Spencer Hawes.

 

Still, Gentry is hardly free of blame. His team’s effort waxed and waned greatly, which is a direct indictment of not only the coach’s ability to get his team to play hard, but also how much the team listened to the coach. Gortat’s frequent, and not-so-subtle, hints at his displeasure with Gentry’s system reflect a coach that has lost his players. And Gortat’s gripes were not without merit. While he is a reliable double-double producer, as previously mentioned, he needs to be mentally locked in in order to produce at an optimal level. Gentry’s system too often either placed Gortat out of his comfort zone, relegated him to a jump shooter, or froze him out altogether. The Polish Hammer may not be the ideal go-to option on a contending team, but Phoenix is far from that stratosphere, and Gentry should have done a better job of keeping one of his best players involved and engaged.   Gentry also had a penchant for placing odd line-ups on the floor, and had a bizarre dedication to establishing Michael Beasley as the go-to guy on the team.

 

The Suns weren’t going to make the playoffs this year, not in an even deeper than expected West, and not with their current roster. But low expectations are no excuse for the putrid product the Suns put on the floor, and for that, Gentry had to go.

The Hardwood Paroxysm 2012-13 Season Preview: The Phoenix Suns

Michael Karrer

Welcome to the Hardwood Paroxysm Season Previews. The 2012-2013 season is upon us. Rejoice! Oh, and if you want to see the most amazing document ever assembled by the most amazing team of writers ever assembled, click here for HARDWOOD PAROXYSM’S 2012-2013 COMPLETE SEASON PREVIEW MAGAZINE. Maybe even print a copy out and give it to your best friend for his/her birthday. Whatever you choose, that’s your journey. -Ed.

Great Theories Regarding Professional Basketball

by Amin Vafa

Let’s not beat around the bush. This season is about Steve Nash no longer being a Sun. There are other additions to the team (notably an amnestied Luis Scola and a gotten-back Goran Dragic), but with Nash no longer there, the Suns organization has finally made a statement: this team ain’t going anywhere, and it’s time to rebuild this thing on the cheap. Well, maybe the organization would have made a more eloquent statement than that, but you catch my drift.

By severing ties (albeit civilly) with the face of its franchise for 8 years (10, if you count his rookie and sophomore campaigns, too), the Suns are now in a real rebuilding mode. They were close to it before, but they were still winning too many games and putting too many butts-in-seats and being too competitive with Nash at the helm. With him gone, they can concentrate on rebuilding by acquiring more youth, picks, and money by trading away pretty much any player with value. And even though they’ve invested money in some new players, unless Dragic has an absurd breakout season, we can be pretty certain that Phoenix’s next franchise player is not yet on the roster.

The Suns aren’t going to be terrible this season, but they’ll be close. And if they’re not close, they should be close. Sorry Suns fans, it’s got to get worse before it gets better. We should all expect Phoenix to be pretty active at the trade deadline, and we shouldn’t be surprised if they trade away their assets for nothing more than money and picks. And we shouldn’t be surprised if they bundle those acquired monies and picks for different monies and picks. Those monies and picks will help them dig deep into the lottery next year, and maybe—just maybe—they’ll be able to quickly get their hands on a franchise player to help turn their franchise back around. MVM:

Most Valuable Meme

by Sean Highkin

Don’t be surprised if Kendall Marshall winds up being voted a starter on the Western Conference All-Stars this season. The amount of fan goodwill he’s built up before playing a single NBA game is unprecedented. There is no player who represents the experience of being a hardcore NBA fan in the 2010s the way Marshall does. If you’re reading this, you probably know what I’m talking about. Twitter is just as integral to the modern-day basketball-watching experience as, you know, watching actual basketball. And Marshall’s ascent to NBA Twitter supremacy rivals Blake Griffin’s dominance of YouTube or JaVale McGee’s Cinemagr.am prowess.

Marshall isn’t just a funny tweeter. There are plenty of funny tweeters in professional sports, and none of them (save the peerless Tony Allen) have won the hearts of smartphone-owning fans the way Marshall has. He’s an ambassador of the amorphous conglomerate called Basketball Twitter. He brought “btb” from relative obscurity to the fingertips of other NBA players. An acronym created by one of us is now on Marshall’s Wikipedia page. He’s used it on teammates, on his sister, and on Kevin Durant. To encapsulate the spirit of “btb” is to encapsulate the spirit of Twitter, which is to encapsulate the spirit of basketball in the second decade of the new millennium. No matter how he pans out as a player, he’s going to be popular for his entire career. Unless he sells out and explains it to his non-Basketball Twitter followers, that is. (“What does btb stand for?” you ask if you’re behind on these things, or retweet yourself asking if you’re JaVale. Well, btb.)

Ask Not For Whom The Bell Trolls, It’s Trollin’ For Suns Fans

by Amin Vafa

Curtain Rises

Scene: Arizona desert. Barren landscape, except for one large rock, stage right. Rock begins to shift left. Man begins to emerge from the spot where the rock used to lie. Hair is long. Beard is disheveled. Face is streaked with white and yellow fan paint, while also covered in large specks of dirt. Dust comes off Man’s purple Suns jersey. He climbs from the hole, faces away from audience. As the dust falls away from his back, the words” NASH FAN” and the number “1” are clearly visible.

Man: [tremendous yawn] WOOOOO. What a nap! I love my offseason hibernation! A yearly tradition like none other. Though I guess they’ve been getting a bit more restful since my boys have been missing the playoffs. Well, that’s OK. I’ve been really tired after cheering my tail off all season. Now I’m totally pumped for next season, even if it is just more of the same. Yep, just another regular ol’ season here in Phoenix. Picking up where we left off last season. Yeah, we’re not trying to win a title this year, but we added some new young guys in the offseason. Maybe this youth movement will help us make our way to the postseason after a couple-year drought. Yep, nothing changed at all. Not. A. Thing. Well, I wonder what’s happening in training camp. Oh man, did I sleep through media day again? I probably did, didn’t I? Well, let me just check out my Google Alerts.

[Removes smartphone from pocket. Eyes widen.]

Oh.

[Walks back to hole. Crawls inside. Replaces rock overhead.]

End scene.

Jesus Christ Your Team Sucks

by Danny Chau

Writers and historians fascinated by Pre-Columbian Mexico often mused over the application of chili peppers. Most had agreed that it was an ingredient championed by the poor, a way of numbing themselves to their dismal diets. To an Anglo centric culinary perspective, one that did not feature a lot of piquancy, this made the most sense. After all, why would the rich want to subject themselves to the incendiary effects of the chili? Of course, later historians discovered that the chili pepper was actually a luxury. Adding chilis to certain dishes provided irreplaceable flavors and sensations known almost exclusively by social elites.

Of course, this idea of using explosive, temperamental ingredients extends very much into the idea of teambuilding. Acquisitions like that of Stephen Jackson to the San Antonio Spurs and Andray Blatche subscribe to the more recent understanding of chili usage. As complementary players, their bite is mitigated, which provides more wiggle room for their respective teams to isolate the strengths.

Phoenix, on the other hand, is very much in the old school of thought. Signing Michael Beasley as a franchise cornerstone is applying an even coating of napalm on the tongue and lighting a match, hoping that it’ll quell your hunger. Good news is it probably will, but only because your head was just blown to bits.

Now, I’m a fan of chilis just as I’m a fan of Beasley. I proudly maintain more than four different chili plants in my backyard, and I’ve found an odd joy in watching Beasley jab-step his way to oblivion. I would love nothing more than seeing a Beasley breakthrough. But signing Beasley was an act of desperation, trying to find any reason for fan enthusiasm after more than half a decade of fun, if not successful, basketball. In dire situations this season, the Suns will likely hand the reins to Michael Beasley to find a solution. And if that’s one of your top options, your team isn’t going to be very good at all.